GLENDALE, Ariz. — All offseason, Chris Thompson, Jordan Reed and Trent Williams had endured long, detailed rehabilitations. They were limited throughout training camp, including the preseason, as they recovered from season-ending injuries suffered in 2017. Sunday was the first opportunity for each to return to game action, so the Washington Redskins’ runaway, 24-6 win against the Arizona Cardinals held special meaning.
“It was big just to go out there and make plays for my guys again,” Thompson said. “It was huge for me. I was super nervous all this morning. When I even got my first play out there, I was just super nervous about what was going to happen. It all just worked out for me.”
Redskins fans got a glimpse of how the offense could perform with two of its most dynamic talents in Thompson and Reed, and both players found the end zone. Williams is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the best left tackles in the game, and his presence was obvious Sunday as he helped power a running game that posted 182 rushing yards after averaging 90.5 last season.
Coach Jay Gruden calls Thompson one of the best third-down running backs in the NFL, and he looked the part against Arizona. He led the team in catches (six) and was second in receiving yards (63), and he ran a nasty inside-out route in the second quarter to score on a 13-yard pass from Alex Smith and put the Redskins up 7-0. Thompson also ran the ball five times for 65 yards and was the perfect complement to Adrian Peterson, who had 26 carries for 96 yards.
“Nothing surprises me about Chris,” Gruden said. “The way he’s battled back from that injury is a testament of what kind of person he is, also the player that he is. He can get open in the backfield. He protected well. Obviously, ran the ball well. . . . He’s a critical player for this football team.”
Reed is also considered one of the best players in the league at his position, but every mention of the tight end comes with the qualifier of his extensive injury history. He played just six games in 2017, 12 in 2016, 14 in 2015, 11 in 2014 and just nine as a rookie in 2013. Reed posted career highs of 87 receptions for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in that 2015 season, but he has yet to take the next step.
At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, Reed has an uncommon blend of size, speed and route-running ability, making him a mismatch for opponents nearly every week. He caught a four-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to put the Redskins up 21-0, diving across the goal line from one knee. He finished with four receptions for 48 yards.
“It meant the world to me just to be back out on the field again, feeling healthy and feeling strong,” Reed said. “[The touchdown] was just God, bro. . . . It was just instinct, and I tried to make a play on the ball.”
The coaching staff treated Thompson, Reed and Williams carefully during the offseason. The Redskins wanted them ready for the opener, even if that meant limiting their time working with the newly acquired Smith. Thompson suffered a broken fibula Nov. 19, and doctors said it would take a year before he feels completely normal. The area around his ankle felt sore as the game wore on, Thompson said, so he remained standing to keep it loose. He said Sunday was the best he has felt since the injury, although he acknowledged that the adrenaline of game day may have helped.
Reed had surgeries on both of his big toes, and he said his feet felt fine throughout the game. Cameras did catch him doing an odd hip-stretching routine on the sideline during the second half to keep loose.
“Long as all of us are out there, it’s going to be some problems for the defense,” Reed said. “Felt great being out there with all my guys. . . . We’ve just got to keep grinding from here.”
The Redskins hope the victory is an indicator of what’s to come. Smith is known as one of the more accurate quarterbacks in the league, and he is especially adept at working midrange and shorter routes. That’s where Reed and Thompson shine. And having an elite left tackle such as Williams makes everything run smoother.
“It was nice to be at full strength, getting those guys back healthy,” Smith said. “I give credit to them that they were ready to roll. . . . It’s one of those things where we certainly didn’t come into the game thinking those guys were going to do what they did. Certainly, we knew they had a chance, but when you set up the game plan, I think that everybody has a shot, and you just don’t know how you’re going to get played.”